The Good, The Meh, The Not So Much

They must have changed their algorithm at Instagram, because I used to put up random snapshots and get likes from a lot of non-followers and my follower list grew slowly but surely. Then one day, things changed. Now I hardly get a like from anyone but my followers, which is not a bad thing of course, but if one wants her photos to be seen by a wider audience, that’s not going to cut it.

Instagram is a game of numbers. The more followers you have, the higher you are on the algorithm and the more people see your photos. However, I’m not willing to play the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I want people to actually like what I do. And since I don’t have 10,000 followers or even 200, then it’s not likely that I’m going to get new followers anytime soon, well, except for the ones who are playing the “get 10,000 followers instantly” game. I get a few of them, but they unfollow me pretty quickly if I don’t follow them back. I know that’s the game, but I’m not interested. Maybe I should be.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I started a 365 challenge on April 1 and I think it’s going pretty well. Some photos are good, others not so much. To experiment and see what works, what doesn’t, and to stretch my boundaries is why I’m doing the challenge in the first place, so I accept the good with the not so much.

I’ve never been good at being a beginner. After reading an article by Amy Clover on perfectionism — check out her website Strong Inside Out — I realized that I’ve always thought that you were either good at something or not. If I wasn’t good when I first tried something, I would quit, assuming I would never be good at it so why bother.

I also based my self-worth on whether or not I was good at something right away. Obviously, since I quit before I could get good, my self-worth has suffered quite a bit. My self-worth has also been affected by the number of likes, comments, and followers I got or more often, didn’t get. Basing your self-worth on external validation is a losing battle. It’s about time to validate my own damn self, right?

I’m sticking with this blog and my photography because I enjoy it, whether anyone sees it or not. I’m trying my hand at allowing myself to be a beginner and maybe one day I’ll get better at it. Maybe one day, I’ll be good at it. I’m “doing it different”. That’s my mantra and I’m sticking to it.

 The Good

perfection
Day two: Panning
Day 23: Can't live without
Day 23: Can’t live without
perfection-12
Day 12: Shoes

The Meh

#instagram #instapic #daily #signs #sign #stroll #coloradosprings
Dday 13: White
Day 7: morning. #365project #photochallenge
Day 7: Morning
Day 19: Four things #instagram #buddha #mirrorimage
Day 19: Four things

The Not So Much

Day 14: My favorite place.
Day 14: My favorite place
perfection-2
Day 3: Smell
perfection-9
Day 17: Fresh

Here’s Your Sign

Here’s Your Sign

Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.

(Author unknown)

A few days ago, I was stuck in my head. You see, I still don’t have a job. I’ve applied for about twenty jobs and not a nibble. I’m trying to be pickier than I have in the past, because I want to do something that will be interesting, challenging, and/or fun. Apparently my résumé doesn’t have the keywords for the fun, interesting jobs. My résumé only shows that I have experience at jobs I don’t want to do anymore, which makes me either over-qualified or under-qualified for all the jobs I’ve applied for.

My goal is not to dwell on the lack of job, but to do things I enjoy doing, so I’ve been working on my photography skills, remembering how to play the piano, and doing a little reading. I’m doing what makes me happy in the hope of bringing more enjoyment into my life, including a fun job. Like begets like, right?

However, sometimes my brain gets stuck in a downward spiral of fear and gloom. When that happens, I go for a hike. (I’ve been hiking a lot lately.) Luckily, hiking takes me out of my head and into my body, which, I have to say, is much more level-headed and intelligent than my brain. I should spend more time there.

I was following a moderately easy trail which begins with a long, slow, steady incline and doesn’t let up until you get to the top. I spent most of the way up talking to the universe. I explained to the universe that I know it gives us signs all the time, but I can’t see any signs, because my fear of scarcity, money in particular, blinds me to any signs the universe may give me. I told the universe it was going to have to make my signs a little more obvious, maybe a big flashing neon arrow pointing HERE’S YOUR SIGN because apparently I’m missing them all.

path5

When I got close to the top of the incline though, my mind started to slow and my body took over. Lack of oxygen will take you out of your head every time. As I focused on my breathing, I watched as my feet moved steadily along the trail, one step after the other, in rhythm with my breath. I noticed then that I had a bit of tunnel vision. I wasn’t seeing anything other than the trail right in front of me. So I decided to look up, when suddenly a flash of color caught my eye. It was a line of tiny yellow flowers.

 

The flowers weren’t on the main trail, but on a steep side trail. I had to scramble a little bit to get to them. As I headed up, I also noticed to my right, a tiny lavender flower growing all by itself. I’m like a kid in a candy shop when it comes to flowers. My eyes get wide and I even giggle a little with glee. (There’s a reason I’m called a plant nerd.)

path4

It was then that I realized that these flowers were my sign. I had been so focused on what was directly in front of me that I almost missed it. Come over this way. Look at this beauty that was right here the whole time. Go see what’s at the top of the hill. Turn around. Here’s a view you never would have seen if you hadn’t followed the signs. I reveled in the beauty and gave the universe a big cosmic hug and a thank you.

What was the sign, you say? Stop following someone else’s path.

path3

I’ve never been one to enjoy the well-beaten path. I’ve tried my whole life because I thought that’s what I supposed to do, but there’s a reason they call it a well-beaten path. It’s already trampled down and smoothed out. It’s been walked by billions of other people. I’ve felt like a failure my whole life, because I couldn’t stay on that damn well-beaten path, no matter how hard I tried. I’ve come to realize though, that the people who move society forward and make a difference in the world are those who create their own path. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

Most of the beauty is off the beaten path. It’s where the wildflowers grow. It’s where the extraordinary view is. There may be big boulders on the path, but it’s kind of fun to figure out how to get around them. Should I go this way through the brush? Should I go that way through the water? Or should I try my hand at bouldering and just climb over?

path2

path1

We all have a choice. We can choose the smooth trail with most of the obstacles worn down or removed, where we simply have to put one foot in front of the other to get where we want to go and that’s okay. Or we can choose to head off onto a side trail even though we’re not exactly sure where it’s going. Perhaps it’ll end up somewhere amazing and give us lots of fun and interesting challenges. Perhaps it will take us somewhere the world has never been. Or perhaps it will lead us back to the well-beaten path eventually, but life is an adventure and that’s what makes it fun.

I’m accepting that I actually like my little side trail. It’s helped me to heal. It’s helped me to help others to heal. It’s led me toward self-acceptance and dare I say, a wee bit of confidence in who I am. It’s led me back to who I truly am. It’s shown me my soul.

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

If I Hear “Everybody’s a Photographer” One More Time…

I want to be a photographer. There. I said it. I try to keep my deepest desires close to the vest, because I don’t want anyone to tell me the “reality” of trying to break into the photography biz. How “everybody’s a photographer” or how their brother has 15,000 followers on Instagram or how I’d better have a back-up plan. I’m not confident enough for that yet.

My goal is to quietly teach myself the art of photography. I’ve been taking photos for quite a while now, but I’ve been living in my comfort zone of landscapes and macros of flowers, so I started a 365 photo challenge in the hopes of breaking out of my rut. I’m posting them on Instagram (@stefaniejones365), but I’m not pushing the hash tags. I’m doing this project for me, to challenge myself and to have a record of my progress. And it is challenging me. It’s not so much a technical challenge, but a composition challenge. My ultimate subject is people. Hopefully, somewhere along the way during this challenge, I’ll get over my fear of photographing people which I know will open an avenue to the real purpose of my photography. That, however, I will keep to myself.

I get a lot of my learnin’ from YouTube and a vlog I particularly like is Ted Forbes’ The Art of Photography. Ted is a true lover of photography and has introduced me to tons of photographers I’ve never heard of. The video I watched today was called If Ansel Adams Used Instagram, in which he spoke about being a part of one’s time. Adams was an innovator in his time. He was doing things no one else was doing and pushing the boundaries of the technology of his time. Ted says (and I would agree), Adams would surely embrace the technology we have today. He would have been one of the first to try drones and the latest camera technology and would still make amazing images. So, yes, everybody these days is a photographer, but not everybody is an innovator and making unique and interesting photos. As with any art, you have to think outside the box and more importantly in photography, you have to learn to see.

Peter McKinnon is another vlogger I enjoy. His videos are mostly concerned with teaching technique and how to do cool things with the latest technology, but today he posted a video called Stop Taking The Same Boring Photos. In this video, he encouraged people to delve a little deeper in their subject. His example was a salad. You could take a picture of the finished salad and that would be okay or you could take a photo of the prep work or the ingredients before it is all put together or present it in a wine glass or even show the empty bowl with a little dressing and tiny bits of salad leftover. Those images are far more interesting than simply a picture of a salad. In order for your work to stand out, you have to do it different. (See what I did there. Maybe I should rename this blog “Doing It Different”). You have to give your viewer or client that little something extra, so that they’ll be more likely to use you again or recommend you to their friends.

So, that’s what I’m working on right now. Learning to see more, to see differently. My challenge is definitely a challenge and sometimes I fear I won’t be able to come up with a decent image, but that’s what trying new things is all about. My photos may not always great and my ideas might flop, but it sure is fun trying.

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This photo accidentally turned out to be even more interesting than I first thought. Instagram wasn’t interested, but I love it.

I Got Triggered

I Got Triggered

 

I’ve been having a hard time lately. This whole “do it different” thing isn’t working as quickly as I wanted it to. It’s not easy to change who I’ve been for longer than I care to admit.

Yesterday, I got triggered and I reacted in the same way I always have:  with a bout of kick-me-in-the-gut, spit-in-my-face depression. I’ve been trying so hard to believe that you get what you most desire if you stop doing the things you do that stop those things from coming to you. It seems so easy for everyone else. Since I’m “doing it different”, I thought that surely I would  get at least a little bit of what I wanted. However, I’m not and someone else is and it feels as if the Universe is refusing to conspire to help me.

Disappointment is the catalyst for my depression. If I have a big desire, I expect the Universe will help me get it. Instead, the Universe gives it to someone else or at least doesn’t give it to me. Then I become deeply disappointed which leads to a big depression and then I give up. I announce to the Universe-very dramatically I might add-that I’m done trying, hoping, wishing, and expecting for anything to get better for me. I feel like I’m the cosmic joke. I want something. The Universe holds out its hand, offering me what I want. I reach out to take it, then it yanks its hand back and yells, “Psych!!” and laughs in my face. I’m pretty sure this is an accurate description of what happens.

Now, I don’t really believe this is how things work. I believe that the Universe has my best interest in mind, just as it does for all of us. I don’t believe in a vengeful Universe. I know it’s me that keeps me from getting what I want, but it seems like there are rules to life and no one gave me the rule book. And certainly no one taught me how to play the game.

I’ve found that movement, be it yoga, biking, hiking, or even weight lifting, is the only thing that helps when I am in deep despair. It helps take me out of my head for a while. Luckily, I live near the mountains and have access to some great hiking trails, so to make myself feel better, I went for a hike. I took the hardest trail the park has and walked without any plan, except to knock the edge off the sadness. I ended up taking a trail that went higher into the hills than I have gone before. I put in my earbuds and listened to Abraham for some words of wisdom. I took pictures of the pasqueflowers that were blooming along the trail. I caught whiffs of the warm pine scented air I love so much and most importantly, I breathed deep and hard.

After walking as far as I felt like going, I turned around and headed back toward the parking lot. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention and found myself on a side trail that seemed to go nowhere. Just ten feet away, I saw the easy trail. It was flat and smooth and wide. No boulders. But I was doing the hard trail, dang it, so I backtracked a little and got back on the trail. Soon, I was off in the weeds again and there was the easy trail right in front of me. Again. This time, I started laughing. I realized that that is what I do in life. I choose to do it the hard way. I force and push. I demand that the Universe give me what I want. I cling stubbornly to how I think things are supposed to go, even though my way has never worked before. The easy path is right there for me and yet I turn away because life isn’t easy, right? It’s supposed to be hard and we’re supposed to work for everything we get.

Well, this time, I gave up and took the easy trail for a while. When I came upon a crossroads, I knew that I didn’t have to choose to go the hard way. I knew it was okay to keep taking the easy way, but I also knew that sometimes the challenging way is more fun. Knowing that I could choose which path I wanted to take, I decided to take the more challenging trail, not because I needed to prove something, but because it was more fun.

I don’t know what taking the easy path in life is supposed to look like, but I do know that when I give up the struggle, things tend to go smoother. I’m going to take the pressure off myself, not try so damn hard all the time, and quit trying to tell the Universe how to do its job. The Universe knows what I want and it knows the easiest, most fun way to get it. I think I’ll try that for a while.

 

No That’s Not A Mugshot

 

As you can plainly see, I’m not comfortable in front of a camera, but I’ll sacrifice my dignity for you, my dear reader.

As you may know, I just relocated to Colorful Colorado. It was great the first few weeks, when I was brand new and everything was exciting. I went out scouting for a good bike shop and to find where all the natural foods stores and yoga studios were. I suppose I was trying to bring back a sense of security. When I found those places, I would feel more at home.

It worked, too, until I hit a snag. I spent eleven days in a wheat-induced depression. Yes. I accidentally ingested a small crumb of onion ring coating and spent the next week and a half in a dark funk. That’s what wheat does to me.

During those eleven days, I went from feeling like I was getting a fresh start at a new life to feeling like nothing would ever work out for me. To top it all off, I had to start looking for a job and that’s never fun, even on a good day.

However, on day twelve, I woke up feeling like someone had lifted all the wet wool blankets off my shoulders and just like that, I felt good again. Thank goodness, but I still had that pesky job to look for.

At this point in my life, I don’t want a job. I’ve it with toiling day after day doing something I don’t like to do in order for some old man to grant me some peanuts so I can have a place to live and food to eat. As I’ve said before, I’ve hated virtually every one of my jobs. It would be so much easier if I were a massage therapist or an herbalist or a yoga teacher or an acupuncturist. I were a “something” it would make those job search engines work better for me. But I’m not a “something”. There is no job called “I just need a job, man.”

The one thing I might be is a would-be entrepreneur. I have a ton of ideas for businesses, but nothing’s really stuck yet. Besides, I have no money, no connections, and I’m a big fraidy cat when it comes to selling my ideas to strangers. Those are all excuses, I know. I have an Elizabeth Gilbert quote on my wall that reads

“You’re supposed to start before you’re ready and before you’re good at it and that’s how you get ready and that’s how you get good at it.”

It takes a lot of courage to start before you’re ready. People tell me that they think I was brave for picking up and moving to a new place just because I wanted to. I don’t necessarily think it was brave. It’s taken me years to actually move. I finally told myself that I had to shit or get off the pot and I’m never one to back down from a dare, but I had to tackle a lot of demons before I was ready. So after several years of therapy and with demons mostly tackled, I moved. I still have a few straggler demons to slay, though, and they’re big and mean and really strong.

One of them rules over my work life. It looms dark and menacing over every bright idea I come up with. It snarls at me, “You can’t make a living doing that. You’ve got to get a job and work hard. You’re not talented enough or smart enough. You’ve never been very good at any of your previous jobs, so you won’t be any good at this either. What if you fail? There’s nothing left after that. Better just stick to what you know.” (My demons talk a lot.)

I know, though, that in order to diminish this demon, I have think different. I can’t go about finding work and thinking about money in the same way I always have if I want things to be different this time. So, as I said in my previous blog post, I’m not going to look for a job. I’m going to let it come to me.

I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah right. People just come to your door and hand you a job.” That’s not what I mean. I mean that I’m going expect the right job (or a giant wad of cash, which would be even better) to come along at the right moment. I’m not going to worry or stress about it and I’m not going to take a job that feels wrong in my gut just because I’m scared. I have faith that the Universe will bring me an opportunity that will make me say “Heck yeah!” instead of, “It’s better than nothing.” It’s a relief to hand the management of my financial life over to the Universe. It has a lot more resources at its disposal than I do.

The other demon that still has its claws in me is the one that tells me that I’m not creative, that I will never be able to make a living doing what I love. (And of course, the only reason to do anything is so that we can make money from it, right?) In the past couple of years, though, I’ve allowed myself to delve into what I love – art. I’ve taken several graphic design classes and a couple of art classes and they have given me so much joy, it makes me cry. (Like right now, I’m literally tearing up.) I stress myself out a little, because I don’t want to wait until I get good enough to make it part of my résumé, but at this point, I’m really not good enough. I don’t have the portfolio and that fear of never being good enough has stopped me from even working on one right now. I can’t get myself to draw or paint or work on my logo or even do tutorials off of YouTube. This demon will not let me play.

However, the demon will allow me to write this blog and practice my photography. I don’t know why. Perhaps all that other stuff is simply play for me – and there’s nothing wrong with playing. What I truly love to do is write and take photographs. Maybe my love is stronger than that nasty, ol’ demon and that’s why it can’t stop me. So instead of fussing over finding a job, I’m making writing and photography my focus. I’m going to be more consistent with my blog and perhaps even up my blog game with a wordpress upgrade.

I’m also opening a new Instagram account within the next couple of days that will be devoted to a 365 photography project. I’m excited to watch the progression of my photography over the next year and I hope to finally find my “voice” (or is it “eye”). I’m going to step outside of my comfort zone of landscapes and flowers, and bring more of myself into my photography. (And nothing is more out of my comfort zone than a selfie. See above.)

I’ve been focused on this concept of “doing it different” for some time now, but I didn’t quite understand how to do that. Now I see that doing things different requires a shift in perspective. I can’t see and think about things in the same way I always have and expect different results. Isn’t that the definition of crazy? I have to approach my life and how I think about things in a different way. They talk about the shift in consciousness that’s going on in the world right now. I believe that shift in consciousness starts with each of us. I’m happy to have finally figured that out and I hope that my shift adds some momentum to the big one that’s underway.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I work my way through doing my life different. If you find yourself “doing it different” as well, I hope you’ll share with me in the comments. I’d love to hear all about it.

The Time I Jumped Off A Bridge

I spent a summer in Alaska at the end of the eighties. I had been semi-dared by my brother to go with these two guys I kind of knew. He said, “You won’t go. You’ll chicken out” or something to that effect. Gauntlet thrown, I sold my car and hopped in a van spray painted with Grateful Dead art and a giant bulls-eye painted in red and white on the roof. We were a rolling target with a pot-head driving the van most of the way, yet we never got pulled over.

It was the year of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the idea had been to go to Valdez to help with the clean up, but we never made it that far. Stinky Kevin–the pot-head driver who never wore deodorant–had his own agenda. He wanted help getting to Petersburg, Alaska, because he had gone there the previous year and he already had a job lined up. Not being to0 ambitious, I decided to stay there too.

I met some very interesting people up there. Petersberg is on Mitkof island on the Inside Passage in southeast Alaska. It’s a town of around 3000 that grows to about 10,000 during the summer fishing seasons and most of the 7000 visitors are young twent-somethings, up for an adventure and trying to make a lot of money in a hurry.

I quickly found my own group of friends after we first got to Petersburg. One day, on a warm day by Alaska standards (it was in the 70’s) and the sun was out (it had pretty much rained nonstop up to that point), we decided to go swimming. I was skeptical. I thought the water would be too cold and if you know me, I’m not a fan of the cold. However, one this particular day, it was surprisingly comfortable.

We swam and played and at some point the boys started to jump off the bridge. I don’t know how high it was, but it looked really high to me. I’m also not a huge fan of heights, especially jumping off of them. Somehow, though, they convinced me to jump off the bridge, too.

We climbed up to the bridge and looked over the side. It was so high, I thought I’d never be able to do it. I am not one to back down from a challenge, however, (which, as you recall, is how I ended up in Alaska to begin with) and as the boys teased me and double dog dared me, I couldn’t say no. Two of my best guy friends even offered to jump with me. There was no backing down.

We climbed up on the railing, each of us on our own pillar and decided to jump on the count of three. One, two…three. I looked at them as I started to jump and realized they weren’t jumping with me. I could have backed out, but I thought, “What the hell” and jumped anyway.

When I came up for air, I heard them screaming and hollering for me. I felt so proud of myself, although I was a bit pissed at them for tricking me. Jumping off that bridge came to represent my way of coping with things that are scary for me.

Blinders are the screens attached to a horse’s bridle that only allows them to see what’s right in front of them, so they won’t get spooked by things happening off to the side. When I’m particularly scared to do something that I really want to do, I put my blinders on, so I won’t be distracted by the fears and buts and shoulds that surround me. I focus on the goal in front of me.

The goal now is to do things differently. I don’t want to keep creating the same situation over and over again. I don’t want to keep resisting my own life. I want to move out of this town that no longer serves me and start over, for real this time.

Yesterday, I decided to give up my last attachment to my old way of doing things: my call center job. And just like that, I’m set myself free. No more resisting. No more undervaluing. I’ll stay vigilant for the moments when I start to head down an old path and gently guide myself back onto the path of least resistance.

Once again, I’ve put my blinders on and said, “What the hell,” just like that day on the bridge. There’s no going back now.

 

 

 

Shooting Arrows

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Image via Pinterest

I know you’ve all seen this one before. I know I’ve seen it a hundred times too, but I feel like this analogy is fitting for how I feel right now.

You may or may not know that I’ve never had a job I’ve liked and I’ve tried almost everything. I enjoy learning new jobs, but once they become repetitive and routine, I get bored. I get so bored that I feel like gnawing my leg off just to get away. I start to feel like, every day I’m going back to prison to fulfill a life sentence for the crime of not knowing what I want to do when I grow up.

The job I have now is everything I dislike in a job all wrapped up in an ugly, low-wage package. I’m working in a call center, which if you don’t know, is a big room with cubicles, old computers, and headsets where I talk to upset customers all day long and attempt to fix their problems. I’m tethered to my phone all day like a dog with a choke chain around its neck. I can stand up and move a couple of steps, but if I try to make a run for it, it yanks me back violently by the neck.

I’m judged on the quality of my phone calls, but more importantly to the powers that be, by the quantity of calls I take, which calls for a lot of multi-tasking. I do not multi-task well. I also have to account for every minute I’m away from the phone and I’m docked for anything more than a quick potty break. The never ending beep of the next call coming in makes me want to bash my head into desk and one can often find me gesticulating like a crazy lady while dripping sugary sweetness through the phone. This is the lie I have to live.

To add insult to injury, I have to drive 15 miles to get to the office, which is in the suburbs. The suburbs! I hate the suburbs. The building is sandwiched between a cornfield-this is Nebraska after all-and the bland brown/beige/gray houses of some quaintly named housing division.

The worst part is that, as a believer in the Law of Attraction, I know that I created this job. Why would I do this to me? Again?

I’ve spent a lot of the last two years focused on figuring that out. Why do I create these things I do not like? Part of it is that I haven’t believed I deserved better and the other part is that I get so focused on the agony of what I’ve already created that I create more of the same. Like attracts like. This job is actually the wake-up call I needed.

I’m done with torturing myself for whatever I think I may have done wrong in my past or trying to make up for being me. I deserve better than this. I’m ready to create something entirely different now. The plan for a big move is underway and my time at this horrible little job in a town I’ve never liked is almost done.

However, I’m having trouble letting go of the old. The old is comfortable in an uncomfortable way. I’m used to the misery, after all this is the way I’ve always done things. There is certainty in the old, but I don’t want certain anymore. I want to walk boldly into uncertainty (that’s my 2017 mantra). It’s the only way I can create anything new.

I feel stressed out and pulled taut like an arrow on a bowstring. My arm is pulling against the string, my eyes are focused on a hazy, but distinguishable target, my foundation is rock solid, and my fingers are ready to release.  All I need to do is let go of the damn string and I’ll fly straight towards my new way of doing things.

Uncertainty has me hesitant to let go. Uncertainty brings up a panic in me that says “What if I miss my target? What if the arrow doesn’t fly, but drops in front of my feet because I didn’t hold it right? What if the target I’ve got a bead on is the wrong target and I end up with something worse?”

The only thing that’s sure in life is that there are no guarantees, but I’ll never know if I don’t try. Letting go of the bowstring and trusting that no matter what target my arrow hits, it will be the right one. It’s the risk I’ll have to take, because giving up and putting the arrow back in my quiver is not an option.